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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1880


Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(3.52) —I move:

That the Bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard. I also table the revised explanatory memorandum to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows-

NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AMENDMENT BILL 1987

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 to prevent exploration and mining for minerals, and related operations, in Kakadu National Park. The Bill applies to all mineral interests, including those interests which existed prior to the proclamation of the park.

The Bill makes it clear that the definition of `operations for the recovery of minerals' in the Act does not include some essential activities by park authorities, the transportation of minerals, goods and people through Kakadu National Park and other prescribed activities in the park relating to mining operations outside the park. Regulations prescribing routes and activities will be made by the time the Bill comes into effect.

The Bill also provides that no compensation will be payable by the Commonwealth to any person, body politic or body corporate by reason of the enactment of this legislation.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1987

The background to this legislation is the landmark decision made by the Government in the latter part of last year, concerning Kakadu National Park and the adjoining Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases. Essentially the decision involved prohibiting mining in the park, incorporating about 65 per cent of the lease areas into the park as soon as possible, and establishing a conservation zone over the remainder of the lease areas so that a carefully controlled program of mineral exploration and resource assessment can be undertaken.

The package of legislative amendments before the Senate will provide the basis for implementing the Government's decisions. More particularly, it will enable the conservation and heritage values of this beautiful and rich area to be fully protected.

The amendments relate to four different acts: The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975; the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978; the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976; and the Lands Acquisition Act 1955.

The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987 will enable some 4,000 square kilometres of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases to be included in Kakadu National Park, and a conservation zone to be declared over the remainder of the lease areas. The Bill will provide the basis for managing mineral activities in the conservation zone in accordance with sound conservation principles.

Also to be considered with this package of legislative amendments is the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987. The purpose of this Bill is to prevent exploration and mining in Kakadu National Park.

The Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Amendment Bill 1987 will enable the role of the Supervising Scientist to be extended to include the provision of advice to the Government on environmental aspects of exploration and mining in respect of all minerals in the conservation zone.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 1987 will ensure that the Gimbat and Goodparla areas are available for Aboriginal land claim. Any part of Gimbat and Goodparla which is successfully claimed and required for park purposes will be the subject of a lease back arrangement with the Director of National Parks and Wildlife.

The Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1987 will enable exploration and mining rights to be granted in the conservation zone after lodgment of a land claim, and allow such interests to be granted if that land should become Aboriginal land.

As all senators will be well aware, this package of legislative amendments is concerned with an important region, an area of outstanding beauty and grandeur, of great significance to Australians and to the world, because of its aesthetic, social, cultural, biological and archaeological values.

The establishment of Kakadu National Park began with the 1977 Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, which recommended that a major national park be established in the Alligator Rivers region. Stage 1 was proclaimed by the Fraser Government in April 1979. Stage 2 was proclaimed by the Hawke Government in February 1984. Both areas were proclaimed as a single park, for administrative convenience, in December 1985. The establishment of Kakadu National Park has not been a precipitous action, but has involved careful government considerations based on detailed investigations, inquiry and public comment over many years. In December last year, the Government announced its intention to further extend the park to include 65 per cent of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases. These Bills before the Senate will enable the extension to be made and achieve related objectives announced by the Government.

Let me summarise the Government's position. There will be no exploration or mining in any part of Kakadu National Park. Mineral exploration will only be allowed in the highly prospective conservation zone, and then only under strict conditions. National parks in this country deserve the best protection and management that we can provide. Kakadu is undoubtedly a major park and this Government is determined to see its natural and cultural values permanently protected.

The Aboriginal cultural heritage is a most important value of Kakadu. This heritage permeates the area and must be conserved. At the same time the Government will ensure that land claims for all parts of Gimbat and Goodparla have every opportunity to be considered. At the moment, except where specifically provided for in legislation, Aboriginal land claims may not be made over land in a national park declared under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. The legislative amendments will allow the new part of Kakadu National Park to be claimed. Land in the park successfully claimed will be leased to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife by the relevant Aboriginal Land Trust, so that the land may continue to be managed as a national park. Honourable senators will be aware that experience with stages 1 and 2 of Kakadu National Park, and with Uluru National Park, demonstrates that Aboriginal ownership of the land can enhance the value of a national park.

The Government also recognises the importance of fully assessing the mineral resources of the proposed conservation zone, which is a largely unexplored area and highly prospective, particularly for gold and platinum. Accordingly, a five-year exploration and resource assessment program is planned for the zone. Following the assessment, the Government will be in a better position to take further decisions on its long term future.

In recognition of the legal rights of existing lease holders, mineral related activities at Coronation Hill and on other existing mineral titles will continue, but be subject to the same environmental assessment procedures as new applicants for exploration rights, and will be brought under the same management regime when environmental assessment has been completed. The new management regime will take effect at the time that exploration licences are granted in respect of new interests in the conservation zone.

The regulation-making power in the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act to prohibit operations on existing interests will only be used as a last resort, if a company does not accept additional terms and conditions which may be required as a result of an environmental assessment. Environmental and cultural values will be protected during the exploration program by conditions attached to each granted title and in regulations under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. The National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill will enable adequate regulations to be made for this purpose.

The Government recognises that the proposed treatment of existing interests in the conservation zone may alter the rights of companies with such interests. However I give an assurance, on behalf of the Government, that this is not to be taken as a precedent for the treatment of existing mining rights on Commonwealth land generally.

Coronation Hill is the most advanced mining project in the conservation zone and promises to be a major development. The Government places particular importance on the fact that Coronation Hill is rich not only in gold but in strategically important platinum group elements, the supply of which is currently dominated by South Africa and the USSR. Any mining at Coronation Hill will proceed only under strict arrangements for the protection of environmental and Aboriginal heritage values.

If any part of the conservation zone becomes Aboriginal land, the issue of subsequent mineral titles for those areas would be subject to an agreement between the relevant land council and the miners, as is the situation elsewhere on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

During the exploration program the Director of National Parks and Wildlife will be responsible for the environmental management of the conservation zone, under the guidance of an advisory committee comprising representatives of the Ministers for Resources and Energy and Arts, Heritage and Environment. This committee will co-opt representatives of other relevant departments and authorities to assist in providing advice as required. The representatives will include the Supervising Scientist for the Alligator Rivers Region, who has been responsible for monitoring and assessing the effects on the environment of uranium mining operations in the Alligator Rivers region for the past eight years. The legislative amendments will enable the Supervising Scientist to advise on the adequacy of environmental controls in the conservation zone, including those for the Coronation Hill project.

I would stress that, although the Supervising Scientist has hitherto been concerned with uranium mining, there will be no uranium mining in the conservation zone. The Government's policy is unchanged-no uranium mines other than Nabarlek, Ranger and Roxby Downs will be allowed to proceed. Although not related to the Government's uranium policy, it may be of interest to note that the conservation zone has only a moderate prospectivity for uranium.

The Northern Territory Government will be invited to assist in the conduct of the exploration program. To this end it is intended that the terms and conditions for exploration will correspond as closely as possible to those attached to exploration licences granted elsewhere under Northern Territory mining law.

The Government will be responsible for capital and recurrent costs associated with the expanded role of the Supervising Scientist, management of the area by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, and mineral research and resource assessment by the Bureau of Mineral Resources. Economic benefits are expected to accrue through the maintenance of environmental and tourism values.

Tourist use of the park has been developing remarkably, increasing at around 30 per cent each year. The number of visitors increased from 58,000 in 1983 to 75,000 in 1984, 100,000 in 1985 and 130,000 in 1986. This year more than 170,000 visitors are expected. The Government is ensuring that the development of tourist facilities is keeping pace with this increase, including the development of roads, caravan parks, camping grounds, motel accommodation and interpretive facilities. As a result of these developments Kakadu has become an even more attractive tourist destination.

The Hawke Government has both a proper concern for resource development and sound economic management, and an unsurpassed record of conserving our natural and cultural heritage. We are not `locking up' Australia's resources in this area as some have misleadingly claimed. The Government intends to make a careful assessment of the mineral resources of the most prospective parts of Gimbat and Goodparla, which will be contained in the conservation zone. The Government will also take full account of the other valuable resources upon which it is so difficult to put a dollar value-the Aboriginal rock art which has existed for thousands of years; the great diversity of birds, plants and animals; and the spectacular views of the Arnhem Land escarpment, its outliers and adjoining lowlands. The rapidly growing tourism industry in the region shows that the cultural and natural values translate, in many cases, into tangible economic benefits that are both substantial and long lasting.

The package of legislative amendments before this House provides a practical way to achieve a proper balance between the conservation and development of all the varied resources of the unique Kakadu region, for the benefit of Australians, now and in the future.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION (ALLIGATOR RIVERS REGION) AMENDMENT BILL 1987

This Bill will enable the Supervising Scientist for the Alligator Rivers Region to provide the Government with advice on the environmental aspects of exploration and mining in the Kakadu conservation zone.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS (NORTHERN TERRITORY) AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1987

This Bill will allow the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral lease areas to be available for Aboriginal land claim. It will also provide for certain land successfully claimed, which is required by the Director of National Parks and Wildlife for park purposes, to be the subject of a lease back arrangement with the relevant Aboriginal land trust. As a national park the land will be available for the enjoyment of all Australians and for visitors from overseas.

If the land in the conservation zone becomes Aboriginal land, the Bill also provides for arrangements in relation to the operation of exploration and mining rights issued under the Lands Acquisition Act 1955.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

LANDS ACQUISITION AMENDMENT BILL 1987

This Bill will enable exploration and mining rights to be granted in the conservation zone after lodgment of a land claim, and allow such interests to be granted if that land should become Aboriginal land.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.